Saturday, December 09, 2006

Tide Moves Forward with Coaching Search

December 9, 2006

Christopher Walsh

TUSCALOOSA | While no one would have blamed Mal Moore had he decided to get an early start on the weekend after Rich Rodriguez turned down an offer to become the next football coach at the University of Alabama, the athletics director was back working in his office Friday afternoon.

Moore was expected to consult with headhunter Chuck Neinas and reconnect with potential candidates to measure interest.

As for where the search may go from here, only Moore knows for sure, and other than issuing a release Friday, reiterating that there’s no set timetable for filling the position, he maintained his silence.

However, all options are now open to consideration, even though some of the external circumstances have changed.

For example, the closer the search gets to the end of the NFL season (Dec. 31), the higher the likelihood a serious candidate could emerge from the pros.

One person Alabama has looked into is Cleveland Browns defensive coordinator Todd Grantham, who had previous stints in Houston (2002-04) and Indianapolis (1999-01). He was also Nick Saban’s assistant head coach (1998) and defensive line coach (1996-98) at Michigan State, and spent six years as an assistant at his alma mater, Virginia Tech.

Otherwise, expect many of the same names that have been circulating over the past 12 days, including Cal’s Jeff Tedford and Rutgers coach Greg Schiano, who said no to Miami last week, to resurface in the rumor mills.

While Alabama was wooing South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier, Nick Saban of the Miami Dolphins and Rodriguez, other schools were doing everything they could to make sure their coaches wouldn’t be lured away.

For example, Navy coach Paul Johnson, who was a candidate this week to take over at North Carolina State before the school settled on Boston College coach Tom O’Brien, is reportedly close to getting a sizable raise that would bump his incentive-laden salary to nearly $1.8 million.

According to the Baltimore Sun, Johnson’s six-year contract, which includes an annual, incentive-based rollover clause that will kick in Jan. 1, currently is worth about $1.3 million per year.

“Contract tenure and competitive compensation for Paul and his staff are never taken for granted," Navy athletics director Chet Gladchuk said in a statement. “It is readdressed every year to be certain we are appropriately expressing our appreciation for a job well done. A rollover of his contract continues to be an annual event and with it comes a number of commitments and conditions that provide Paul and his family the opportunity to remain at the Academy for the rest of his career and I have no reason to believe that will not be the case."

“With all the Internet and media rumors, I felt like it was important to formally address my continued commitment to the Naval Academy," Johnson said. “Despite media reports to the contrary, I never talked to officials at any school and I want to reiterate that my family and I are very happy at the Naval Academy and we are looking forward to continued success here at Navy."

Jim Grobe of Wake Forest is in the fourth year of a 10-year contract that nets him approximately $1 million a season. Athletics director Ron Wellman has said the school was “discussing" ways to enhance Grobe’s contract, and the coach has denied being a candidate anywhere else.

“I’m perfectly happy at Wake Forest," he said last week. “I think some people like having their names floated all over the place. I’ve been around long enough that it has no appeal for me. I couldn’t be happier. I’m not only happy with this football team and the staff and our families are happy, but I’m happy with where we’re headed."

The two biggest wild cards in the search are, of course, Neinas and the agents of various coaches.

Although one of the main reasons for hiring a consultant is to avoid what happened Friday -- being publicly turned down by a coach -- earlier this week Neinas helped both Miami and North Carolina State wrap up their coaching searches, and he was given an award for his contributions to the National College Football Awards Association.

As for the agents, Alabama’s first two targets, Spurrier and Saban, are represented by Jimmy Sexton of Athletic Resource Management in Memphis, who also has Auburn’s Tommy Tuberville, Tennessee’s Phillip Fulmer and Arkansas’ Houston Nutt as clients, along with former Miami coach Larry Coker, Frank Beamer of Virginia Tech and Bill Parcells of the Dallas Cowboys.

Another prominent agent for coaches is Neil Cornrich of NC Sports, based in Cleveland, Ohio, who incidentally represents the new coaches at Miami and North Carolina State – Randy Shannon and Tom O’Brien.

Two of Cornrich’s top prospects are Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema and LSU defensive coordinator Bo Pelini.

Last year, Bielema signed a five-year, $4 million contract that pays $750,000 a season. It has no out clause, but Bielema would have to pay $1 million to terminate the contract before Jan. 31, and $500,000 the following year.

Grantham and Pelini were top candidates for the recent Michigan State opening, and Pelini’s name is being mentioned with Arizona State.

Houston Texans assistant coach Mike Sherman is interested in both Alabama and Boston College.

According to a source close to Bob Stoops, he’s not looking to leave Oklahoma. Stoops makes more than $3 million a year and will receive a $3 million bonus if he remains the Sooners’ coach through the 2008 season.

However, the same source indicated his brother Mike, who helped turn Arizona around faster than expected, might have an interest.

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